The Best Camping Games to Play With a Flashlight

From 'Startled Goose' to 'Lightning Bug,' a simple flashlight can provide hours of after-dark entertainment.

by Alexis Barad-Cutler

Like moths to flames, kids are drawn to flashlights. Give them one while camping or at a backyard cookout and, between making shadows, scary faces, and lightsaber play, you can almost buy enough time to finish an entire grown-up conversation. What’s even better than giving one kid a flashlight, however, is giving them to an entire group. Not only does it eliminate all the “who gets to hold the flashlight” arguments, but it opens up an the entire campsite to epic group games after sundown. And what kid doesn’t love playing outside in the dark?


Entertainment Time: 15-20 minutes.

What You’ll Need: A flashlight and at least six players. After choosing a person to hold the flashlight, the ‘Gravekeeper,’ everyone else scatters and finds a place to lie down. All players must lie perfectly still and are only allowed to breathe, blink, and move their eyes. More important still, their faces must be completely visible. The Gravekeeper then canvasses the area with their flashlight, shining it on other players and watching for any sign of movement. If someone is spotted moving, they’re out and must join the Gravekeeper. The Gravekeeper and their helpers can also actively try to get players to move or change their expressions by saying something silly or telling the players a funny joke, but they are not allowed to touch the players to try to make them move. The round ends when the last player on the ground moves.

But I Have (in the Dark)

Entertainment Time: 8-10 minutes

What You’ll Need: A flashlight and at least five players. Think of the silliest, scariest, spookiest thing you can do in the dark ⏤ that’s the premise of this funny game. Players sit in a circle around a campfire or fire pit and take turns holding the flashlight, with the light facing up into their faces, scary-campfire-story style. The player holding the flashlight starts the story off, beginning with the phrase, “I have never…” before adding something like “…gone into a dark basement at midnight.” They then pass the flashlight to the player to the right who says, “But I have!” Play continues around the circle with kids alternating between saying something ridiculous that they’ve never done ⏤ “I have never visited a haunted house!” ⏤ and responding with “But I have!” All of the statements can be made up, as it’s not a competitive game but more of a silly entertaining one. Play until people run out of ideas, or until they get too spooky or gross (i.e. when the “nevers” lean toward potty humor stories).

Duck, Duck, Startled Goose

Entertainment Time: 5-10 minutes.

What You’ll Need: A flashlight and at least four players. Similar to Duck Duck Goose, but in the dark. The players assemble in a circle, and the main player (“It”) holds the flashlight. As “It” says, “Duck, duck . . .” they shine the light at the back of people’s heads. But when they decide to say “Goose,” they should reach around so that the flashlight shines right in the Goose’s eyes, disorienting them briefly before they get up to give to a wobbly, topsy, turvy chase. As is goes in fully-illuminated Duck Duck Goose, the player who is marked as the “Goose” has to run and tag “It” before “It” reaches the “Goose’s” vacated seat. If successful, “Goose” keeps their spot in the circle. If not, “It” goes again. The game continues until all players get a turn at being “It”.

Stone Collector

Entertainment Time: 15-20 minutes

What You’ll Need: Blindfolds and flashlights for each player, as well as plenty of stones. Divide players into two groups. Give one group blindfolds to wear and a flashlight to hold. After having them spread out and lie down around the yard or campsite, place a stone between ⏤ but not touching ⏤ each player’s feet. The other half of the group (the ones who are not blindfolded) then walk around as quietly as possible trying to steal the stones without the blindfolded players ‘catching’ them. The blindfolded players, meanwhile, must listen carefully to pinpoint whether a player is sneaking up to grab their stone. If they think so, they shine their flashlight in the direction they think the player is standing. If they hit the thief with the light, the two players switch places (FYI, it may require an adult judge to keep the kids honest). Stone Collectors try to gather as many stones as possible without being caught. The person with the most stones at the end of the game wins.

What’s Missing At Night?

Entertainment Time: 5 minutes

What You’ll Need: One flashlight per player, and it’s best played with four or fewer players. This is like the regular game of “What’s Missing” but the “game board” is in the dark, and you need a flashlight in order to survey the scene to find out what has been taken away. It is also a fun pre-bedtime game. Players first survey a room to take stock of everything as it currently stands. Then they wait outside of the bedroom while another player goes into the room, closes the door behind them, and removes/hides an item (something big enough to be noticed, but smaller than say, a floor lamp) somewhere it can’t be seen. Then, they turn off the light and exit the room. Now, players each take their flashlights and canvas the room with it to figure out what was missing. The first person to figure out what is missing gets to be the player who picks the thing that will be missing in the next round. If you’re playing with younger players, you can create your own “what’s missing” scene on the floor of the room with an established group of toys and objects to make it easier – rather than making players guess what’s missing in an entire room.

Lightning Bug

Entertainment Time: 10-15 minutes

What You’ll Need: One flashlight, a dark playing area, and more than two players. One player gets to be the Lightning Bug. Holding the flashlight, that player goes and finds a hiding place somewhere in the playing area. The other players then go looking for the Lightning Bug. Every 15 seconds or 30 seconds (you can decide on the appropriate amount of time for your group), the Lightning Bug flashes their flashlight on and off once (before moving positions), giving the other players a chance to alight on the Bug’s hiding spot. The person who finds the Lighting Bug gets to be the Lightning Bug next.

Flash(light) Dance

Entertainment Time: 8-10 minutes

What You’ll Need: A flashlight, music, a referee/judge, and, ideally, a large group. Similar to freeze dance, except you don’t have to freeze when the music stops, plus a few other twists like darkness, a flashlight, and some extra silliness thrown in. To play, turn on the music, and have all the players dance, just like in regular freeze dance. When the music stops, not only do the dancers have to stop dancing, but they have to look on the dance floor to where the flashlight is pointing. An outside player will be shining the flashlight on one of the dancers, designating them as the dancer whose move everyone now has to copy. The last person to assume the copycat position is out. The last surviving person on the dance floor wins the game.